Baseball season has begun, just a couple weeks old now, so I figured it would be a good time to look back at a baseball-themed comic. And this one is a childhood favorite—the superheroes vs. supervillains baseball game that took place in “The Great Super-Star Game!” from DC Super Stars #10 (Dec. 1976), written by Bob Rozakis and penciled by Dick Dillin.
The primary movers of the plot here are a bit of a surprise: Mr. & Mrs. Menace, the Sportsmaster and the Huntress, two villains that debuted all the way back in the Golden Age. The Sportsmaster was a reoccurring enemy of the Golden Age Green Lantern while the Huntress mixed it up regularly with Wildcat. They were also both part of the Injustice Society when they fought the JSA in All-Star Comics #41 (Jun.-Jul. 1948), which would be the first time the two characters directly crossed paths.
In the Silver Age, Sportsmaster and the Huntress returned to plague Starman, Black Canary, and Wildcat in The Brave and the Bold #62 (Nov. 1965), where they were revealed to have wed and were dubbed “Mr. and Mrs. Menace.”
In the Bronze Age the pair showed up again in Batman Family #7 (Oct. 1976), just a couple of months prior to the big baseball game covered here today. Writer Elliot S! Maggin wanted a crooked couple to go up against Batman Family regulars Batgirl and Robin and saw Mr. and Mrs. Menace as a great fit—only problem was that his heroes lived on Earth-1. So in order to make the story work, Maggin made the villains into Earth-1 counterparts to the Earth-2 originals.
In basically every way however, these Earth-1 villains appeared to the be the exact same characters from Earth-2. Even in the conversation that immediately follows the above panel, Huntress remarks “you’re getting old, mister,” and Sportsmaster responds “you’re no spring chicken yourself, girl,” indicating that they’ve been doing this for a rather long time, and thus are not “new” villains.
Sidebar: Adding to the confusion, some super-geeks mark the first appearance of the Earth-1 Huntress as Aquaman #26 (Apr. 1966), but I wouldn’t qualify this appearance as such. They may call her “Huntress,” but she was clearly created (by Bob Haney and Nick Cardy) to be her own character, with just the name and her animal-print clothing evoking the earlier character. (The original Huntress wore tiger stripes; this one wore a leopard-print bikini.)
Any comics fan pressed to explain the difference between the Earth-1 and Earth-2 versions of this villainous couple would find it quite difficult, if not impossible. Stuff like this is what eventually made the Crisis on Infinite Earths feel necessary, kids. Anyway, since they’re set against Earth-1 heroes in this story, we can only assume these are supposed to be the Earth-1 versions of Huntress and Sportsmaster.
Mr. and Mrs. Menace: The Sitcom
The story opens with Huntress and Sportsmaster squabbling like a sitcom couple— “a husband-and-wife shouting match,” according to the text. What’s the fight about? Well, Huntress wants to quit being a villain and become a hero, as the “bad guys” always lose and the “good guys” always win. Sportsmaster is determined that they stick with crime. A rather meta aspect of the story (particularly for 1976), as this reflected many geek arguments from the playground back in the day. Why does Lex Luthor keep fighting Superman when he always loses? Ditto the Joker and Batman? And ditto all the rest of the villains, for that matter?
After throwing some furniture around, Sportsmaster offers his wife a more civilized solution to their disagreement: a baseball game, which Sportsmaster is sure his team of villains will win, while the Huntress can play on the heroes’ side. If the heroes win the game, Huntress can switch to crimefighting, and if the villains win, she sticks with her hubby on the criminal side of the aisle. The Huntress agrees to her husband’s terms and the game is on.
I should note the baseball game here earned this comic the “Strange Sports Stories” label. “Strange Sports Stories” was a feature that ran for five issues (issues 45-49) of The Brave and the Bold back in the sixties, and then six more issues under its own name across 1973 and ‘74. Our baseball story takes up twenty pages of the giant-size, fifty-cent format. The rest is filled out by reprint material: “The Super-Athletes from Outer Space!” originally published in Strange Adventures #59 (Aug. 1955); and “The Fight for the Championship of the Universe!” originally published in Green Lantern #39 (Sept. 1965).
Sportsmaster lures various heroes and villains into traps camouflaged as sporting exhibitions; shortly after they arrive on the scene together, he blips them all away with a powerful teleportation device. Now I know what you’re thinking: With tech like this, why doesn’t he teleport all the heroes away somewhere and conquer the world? Why waste such power on putting together a silly baseball game? The answer is that it’s 1976 and writer Bob Rozakis is trying to give his audience of almost exclusively young kids a fun story about super-characters playing a baseball game.
In any case, the teams are assembled quickly and we’ve got an impressive roster to play with.
It’s standard Major League Baseball rules (for the time—no pitch clocks in those days), with the one caveat that no one’s supposed to use their super powers in the game. The heroes aren’t exactly thrilled with indulging the Sportsmaster by playing the game at all, but relent when they learn that if they refuse, the crowd of over 65,000 innocent people in the stands will somehow be forced to “stay here forever . . . or until that scoreboard shows our ballgame is over!” This appears to be some kind of trap gimmick courtesy of the Huntress, but it’s never explained in any detail. Again, sounds like the villains could trap the heroes just as easily with this gimmick and conquer the world, but let’s not bring this up. This is just fun, silly story we’re telling here.
So the heroes agree to the game. Uncle Sam and Amazo serve as umpires.
And miraculously, we make it through eight innings without any cheating and it’s all tied up going into the ninth. At this point, desperate to win the game, Sportsmaster informs his criminal compatriots that it’s time to start using their super powers to ensure victory. At first this backfires on them, but then they start to get ahead via their cheating tactics. This moves the heroes to start using their own powers in the game in retaliation.
Now I can hear people out there thinking again: Didn’t they agree to not use any super powers in the game? Shouldn’t the umps have called them out whenever they did this? Folks, all I can tell you is that you’re never going to enjoy this story if you think about things too much. Or think about any of it at all, really.
The game ends with the heroes cheating to win.
Eel O’Brien was a crook before he became Plastic Man, so I guess this isn’t completely out of character.
This is the sad part about reviewing stories like this today, as a grown up. As a grown up with a B.A. (plus one semester of graduate work) in English Lit, I recognize how wrong this is, thematically. The villains should be undone by their own cheating while the heroes win while obeying the rules. This would be far stronger in terms of both theme and characterization, plus you’d be sending the proper message to all of the children in the audience—that message being cheating is wrong and cheaters never win. But this would also make for a rather boring story. Kids (like myself at the time) buy superhero comics because they want to see characters using their amazing powers. They certainly don’t want a “normal” baseball game—they can watch such a game on television nearly any day of the week during baseball season.
So on one level it’s bad, but on another it’s good. As I said, just don’t overthink it and enjoy the story for what it is: light-hearted fun.
According to the wager they made at the beginning of this tale, the Earth-1 Huntress should have become a hero as a result of this game but she did not. In fact, as far as I know, the Earth-1 Huntress never appeared again, nor the E-1 Sportsmaster. The Earth-2 originals would pop up again, but not the supposed E-1 versions. (I say “supposed” here because they really do feel like they’re all the same characters, as discussed at the beginning. And post-Crisis, I guess they literally are the same characters, from a continuity perspective.)
However, a number of years later, Roy Thomas did retcon the history of the Huntress so that she started out as a superheroine named the Tigress, who was briefly a member of the Young All-Stars. A near-death experience and some dark magic would push her into villainy and change her name to the Huntress. Could some of her good impulses and early career as a hero have been inspired by this goofy baseball story? Hmmm . . . it’s a possibility.